August
1998
Russian Science and the World
(WWW Monthly Digest)

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      Nature / Vol.394, No.6693, 6 August 1998
      Russia to pay up money owed to scientists


Moscow. The Russian government has promised to pay all debts to the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) this month. The agreement follows negotiations with trade unions from RAS. The finance ministry will transfer 1 billion roubles ($160 million) to RAS accounts: 800 million roubles for salaries and the rest to cover debts for the second quarter of 1998. Viktor Kalinushkin, an RAS trade-union leader, says scientists may join striking miners, teachers and nuclear workers this autumn "if the cabinet fails to fulfil this agreement".

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      Science / Vol.281, No.5378, Iss. of 7 Aug. 1998, pp.773-774 (RUSSIAN MUSEUMS)
      Fight Erupts Over Rights to Profits From Holdings
      • Richard Stone


Russia's premier zoological institute is battling its parent body over control of an important source of research funds-revenue from traveling shows and products that showcase its vast holdings. The fight pits the Zoological Institute (ZIN) in St. Petersburg and like-minded institutes against a new agency of the Russian Academy of Sciences called the International Academic Agency Nauka. The outcome could affect not only ZIN's 15,000,000 holdings, including a prized mummified baby mammoth named Dima that was unearthed in 1977, but also the operations of dozens of other state-owned institutions struggling to adapt to the free market.

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      Washington Post / Monday, August 17, 1998; Page A01
      Radioactive Materials Threaten Mighty River
      • By David Hoffman
        Washington Post Foreign Service


BOLSHOI BALCHUG, Russia -- Smooth as glass, the mighty Yenisey River runs silent and cool on a summer evening past this remote village in central Siberia. From the banks, fishermen pull out grayling salmon, and along the flood plain, impoverished villagers pick mushrooms and berries, as they have for centuries.
But the placid tableau of the Yenisey masks an environmental disaster.
According to studies completed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Yenisey River has been contaminated -- severely in places -- by three decades of discharges of radioactive particles from a state-run factory making bomb-grade plutonium. Bolshoi Balchug is just downstream from the factory.
The contamination is hidden in the sands of the riverbed, on the islands and in the flood plains. Radionuclides, the product of nuclear fission, including plutonium-239, cesium-137 and strontium-90, have been found hundreds of miles downstream, apparently carried by the river's powerful floods, and have been detected in the food chain.
In downstream villages, experts have found a disturbing statistical pattern of illnesses: an increase in children with leukemia, in breast cancer among women, in genetic aberrations, and a higher death rate. All are possible effects from radiation exposure.
Despite the evidence, little has been done to protect either the 64,000 people living immediately downstream from the factory or the tens of thousands of others farther down the river, where radiation also has been found. No cleanup is underway. The managers of the plutonium factory insist that no serious health threat exists.
Fishermen, boatmen and families living along the Yenisey say they have heard of the radioactive contamination, but ignore the warnings, or just don't care. They go on fishing and foraging for berries and mushrooms.
"We eat the fish -- we've heard of the problems, but we still eat the fish," said Yelena Polezhayeva, resting on the hull of a riverboat while her husband, Viktor, hammered at the dented metal of their own vessel on the riverbank, preparing it for the summer. "We hope it won't affect our health."
The contamination and its effects are just one chapter in a long list of environmental disasters that Russia inherited from the Cold War. Among the most serious, and extensive, is the tide of dangerous radioactive materials released into the environment from the Soviet nuclear weapons program -- a vast, once-secret archipelago of plants designed to create, manufacture and test atomic bombs.
In addition to nuclear tests, dangerous radiation releases came from three factories that manufactured the plutonium for the Soviet atom bomb. They contaminated the air, water and soil of the regions around them long before the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident. The three factories were contained in secret cities known by their military designations: the Mayak facility at Chelyabinsk-65, the Siberian Chemical Combine at Tomsk-7 and the Mining and Chemical Combine at Krasnoyarsk-26, which stands on the shores of the Yenisey.
At Mayak, located in the Ural Mountains, immense releases of radioactivity came from wastes that were pumped into open reservoirs and Lake Karachai, as well as the 1957 catastrophic explosion of a radioactive waste container that created a massive aerial plume that exposed hundreds of thousands of people to radiation. At Tomsk-7, there was an explosion in 1993 in a 9,246-gallon tank containing uranium and plutonium that released substantial amounts of radioactivity.
After the Mayak explosion, the Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk factories began injecting their radioactive wastes into deep underground caverns, a practice that has pumped far more contamination into the Earth than was released at Chernobyl, though the effects of Chernobyl were more immediate because the radiation was released into the air.
For most of the Cold War, Soviet authorities concealed the history of radiation poisoning. Even now, Russian authorities have not fully acknowledged the extent of the damage, or acted to protect the people who may be endangered by it. After the Mayak disaster, about 10,500 people along the Techa River were evacuated, but others were left behind. Efforts to track the health effects have been made years after the explosion, but the long delays have made it difficult. At all the sites, there has been little or no effort to clean up the radioactive contamination.
The story of the Yenisey River shows how post-Soviet Russia has just barely begun to face the colossal problem of what to do about the pollution caused by its bomb factories. It shows how the military and civilian authorities in charge of weapons production continue to resist the evidence that health problems exist and cleanup is necessary. It also demonstrates how little is known -- and how difficult it has been to uncover the full extent of the radiation pollution.
Inside the Russian military and scientific establishment, emerging environmental disasters have set off an intense struggle between activists who favor disclosure and remedial measures and a resistant old guard. In the Yenisey case, one of the pioneers in investigating the damage has been Alexander Bolsunovsky, 44, a bearded senior researcher at the Institute of Biophysics in Krasnoyarsk. He has carried out expeditions that found "hot particles" of radiation along the river, and has written a new account for Green Cross Russia, an environmental group, arguing that the contamination of the river is severe in spots.
For 30 years, the Yenisey was contaminated by radiation from a secret plutonium plant built in a city that was itself secret. Krasnoyarsk-26, now known as Zheleznogorsk, was built after World War II along the rocky east bank of the Yenisey, 37 miles downstream from the industrial city of Krasnoyarsk in central Siberia. The Yenisey, Russia's most powerful river by water volume, runs 2,050 miles through Siberia before emptying out into the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean.
It was, and remains, a "closed" city under the Ministry of Atomic Energy. At its heart is the Mining and Chemical Combine, a factory to make the bomb-grade plutonium. Two reactors were installed more than 650 feet into a mountainside. The first went into operation in 1958, and the second in 1961. They produced plutonium-239 for weapons using a graphite-moderated, light-water-cooled reactor similar to the U.S. plutonium reactor at Hanford, Wash.
Both Russian reactors were cooled by water directly from the Yenisey. In 1964, a third reactor went into operation with a closed-loop cooling system, not directly discharging into the river.
After the end of the Cold War, in 1992, the two older plutonium production reactors were shut down. Under a U.S.-Russian agreement, the third plutonium reactor is to be shut down by 2000.
In addition to discharging cooling water into the river, the plutonium plant generated radioactive wastes. Some were stored in open-air reservoirs and stainless steel tanks. But the factory also bored holes deep into the Earth, and injected millions of cubic meters of radioactive wastes into underground caverns.
These injections remain some of the largest discharges of radiation ever made into the global environment. Donald J. Bradley of the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in a recent study on radioactive waste in the former Soviet Union, reported that the injections at Krasnoyarsk released 1 billion curies of radioactivity into the Earth, of which 450 million curies remained in 1996.
By comparison, he said, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in April 1986 released 5.8 million curies, of which 1.57 million remained. (A curie is a unit of radioactivity in matter, equivalent to the number of disintegrations undergone by one gram of radium in one second.) Thus, the radioactivity in the underground caverns amounts to hundreds of times more than that of the Chernobyl accident. The Chernobyl radiation was released into the air, while in this case it is being injected into deep underground caverns of natural clay and rock, which managers of the plutonium factory say does not pose an environmental risk.
But others question whether the wastes could leak. Bolsunovsky said there is a "serious danger" of the radioactive wastes moving through nearby layers of coal, and leaking. Bolsunovsky also said a waste-laden pipeline from the factory to the injection point is in "critical" condition, leaking radioactive wastes that could be washing into the Yenisey.
Russian authorities, however, deny there is a problem. A spokesman for the factory, Pavel Morozov, said in response to written questions from The Washington Post that the possibility of leaks of waste from the underground caverns is "close to nil."
He said "a narrow shore strip" downstream from the plant had been contaminated, and that some flood lands and islands were polluted by sediment carried there by flood waters. Morozov said the factory believed the contamination was caused by "natural uranium" in the waters of the Yenisey that passed through the reactors and turned into plutonium.
In fact, the full extent of contamination of the Yenisey is not yet known. The broad river curves gracefully through pine forests and past villages that were settled in the mid-17th century. On one bank sits the Tayozhny Pioneer Camp, a summer camp for children, and the neighboring village of Atamanovo, with small boats lined along its banks. On the other side is Bolshoi Balchug, an isolated hamlet with a distinctive, dilapidated two-steeple wooden church rising from the forest.
The reported contamination stretches from these two villages hundreds of miles downstream. Although the banks are sparsely populated with small villages, tens of thousands of people live along the river. The radioactive contamination also has reached a city, Yeniseysk, with a population of 21,900. There, 200 miles downstream from the factory, is one of the most severely contaminated points, Gorodskoi Island.
According to Morozov, the maximum amount of plutonium found in soil samples from the river flood lands has been 8 becquerels per kilogram of soil, or about 26 times the natural radiation level found in soil in the region. (A becquerel is another, far smaller unit for measuring the amount of radioactivity in a given sample of matter.) In an interview with a Krasnoyarsk newspaper, he claimed that only "tiny" amounts of cesium and strontium had contaminated the riverbed and flood plain. "This scares the public, but there is no real danger to health," he said.
However, others say the contamination is far more widespread, and severe, especially in the flood lands. Vitaly Kovalenko, deputy chief doctor for radiology at the regional sanitary-epidemiological center in Krasnoyarsk, said plutonium has been found on Gorodskoi Island at readings of up to 48 becquerels per kilo. That is 160 times the level found in natural soil in the region, which is 0.3 becquerels per kilo. The concentrations of cesium-137 on Gorodskoi Island reach up to 25,000 becquerels per kilo, he said. On the edge of the factory grounds, the plutonium in soil is on average 10.1 becquerels per kilo, Kovalenko said.
Bolsunovsky also has discovered what he calls "hot particles," radionuclides with extremely high measurements of radiation. Bolsunovsky has made several expeditions up and down the river searching for the particles, starting in 1995. Some of the particles have radioactivity "off the scale," he said.
Bolsunovsky said the "hot particles" could only have come from spent fuel that the factory secretly or perhaps accidentally -- discharged into the river. He said that when plutonium production was at its peak, aluminum fuel canisters inside the reactor cracked, and the particles were discharged into the Yenisey. He said these spills probably occurred a decade ago.
But the factory has never released information about such accidents. Morozov, the spokesman, said there were "no cases registered." He said some fuel canisters had "depressurized," but denied that they leaked radioactivity into the water.

    A Threat to Health?


The levels of radiation that have been measured in the area around the Yenisey are not likely to cause immediate sickness in people exposed to them. But many studies have demonstrated that populations exposed to even small amounts of increased radiation experience an increase in cancer cases, birth defects and other diseases over time. The radionuclides that have been found in the Yenisey are particularly hazardous because they are relatively long-lived and can get into the food chain; the half-life of plutonium is 24,360 years.
But the Russian authorities have not accepted the claim by some scientists that a serious health hazard exists.
In 1990, the Soviet Union's State Committee for Nature Protection appointed a special commission to study the health effects of the plutonium factory. The commission found that the plant had no major impact on the health of the population. The factory maintains this position today. Morozov, the spokesman, said that in the villages closest to the river, "the radiation situation is normal and can't lead to a worsening of the health of the population."

    But independent experts dispute that conclusion.


Vladimir Mazharov, head of the laboratory at the Institute of Complex Problems of Hygiene and Occupational Diseases, of the Siberian division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has compared medical statistics from three rural river districts closest to the factory with "control" districts elsewhere in the region. He also studied the incidence of disease in the population in the 1950s, before the plutonium factory began operating in 1958, and in the years after operations began.
Many of the known indicators of radiation effects on people are evident in the river valley. For example, the overall cancer mortality rate in the river districts increased from 88.9 per 100,000 people before the factory was built in the 1950s to 134.4 in the years after it was built, according to Mazharov. By contrast, there was no increase in the cancer mortality rate in the control districts.
He said mortality among women from breast cancer in the same period went from 1.9 to 10.9 cases per 100,000 women, while there was no increase in the control districts.
He said childhood death from leukemia was higher for those closer to the plutonium factory, and decreased farther away.
In a report presented before a conference in Spain last year sponsored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mazharov and other experts reported finding an increase in death from cancers related to radioactivity -- breast cancers, leukemia, bronchopulmonary cancers, thyroid cancers, bone cancers and skin cancers.
Besides increased incidence of cancer, they said, a higher incidence of complicated pregnancies and birth defects was found along the river. They also reported that people living near the river had genetic abnormalities and weakened immune systems.
Overall, Mazharov reported, people living downstream from the plant had a "clearly unfavorable" health situation. But the statistics also left some questions unanswered, and Mazharov said without precise information on the contamination and dosages received by the population, he could not reach firm conclusions.
"I am a specialist in social hygiene," he said, "and I always try to understand what is affecting people's health. I am looking for factors. And when I see no factors, I cannot connect these things to anything, but the one thing that is relevant. And there is only one relevant factor on this territory," he said, "the Mining and Chemical Combine."

    "What Can We Do About It?"


Even if the factory and government authorities were to acknowledge the dangers, the prospects of cleaning up the Yenisey River pollution are slim. Russia's economy has been in a depression for five years, and money is scarce for new research, not to mention for a hugely expensive cleanup of a turbulent Siberian river or evacuation of a string of rural villages. The river is prone to flash floods, and the radioactive particles often get tossed from one place to another.
"The trouble is, no one knows how many of these spots there are," said Vladimir Tetelmin, a member of Russia's lower house of parliament who represents the Yenisey region.
Tetelmin has searched in vain for money to clean up severely contaminated Gorodskoi Island, near the city of Yeniseysk. "Where is the money to come from?" he asked. "To rehabilitate all this contaminated area in the Yenisey -- all of Russia's money will not be enough. Maybe all of America's money will not be enough. Maybe the whole world doesn't have enough because the Yenisey is very long. "
Natalya Kupriyanova, 35, strolling with her 12-year-old son Sergei in the village of Atamanovo, at the crest of the riverbank, said the people living by the Yenisey are aware of the hazards, but have little recourse. "We'd like someone to do something," she said. "But pensions are so small, people have to eat fish. You can't say we don't care -- we do care. But it's the bitter truth: What can we do about it? How are the young people going to live? I fear they won't live to old age."

    An Ulcer on the Earth


The Yenisey River is Russia's largest river by water volume and flows into the Kara Sea. The precise location of the Mining and Chemical Combine near Krasnoyarsk is secret. This illustration is an artist's impression based on Russian and Western sources and the reporter's visit to the area.

    Krasnoyarsk


Mining and Chemical Combine (former plutonium factory) is located in this area. Complex includes underground reactors. Discharge of cooling water runs into Yenisey River.
    1986 Nuclear reactor explodes.
    1957 Radioactive waste container explodes at Mayak
    nuclear processing plant.
    1993 Container of uranium and plutonium explodes at
    Tomsk-7 plutonium factory.
    SOURCES: "Radiation Legacy of the Cold War,"
    Russian Green Cross, 1998; "Making the Russian Bomb,
    from Stalin to Yeltsin," Thomas B. Cochran, Robert S.
    Norris, and Oleg A Bukarin, Westview, 1995
RESEARCH BY DITA SMITH
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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      Fox News Online / 2.49 p.m. ET (1849 GMT) August 17, 1998
      Cosmic Meal on Mir? That'll Be $435
      • By Adam Tanner

IZMAILOVO -- For $435 you might expect more than a couple of cans of fish or meat swimming in oil, a few packs of freeze-dried ... stuff and some tiny bits of bread and chocolate.
But then your dining options 250 miles out beyond the stratosphere are limited and the three cosmonauts who blasted off for Russia's Mir space station last week will be grateful for those modest meals during their six months in orbit.
"For a long-duration flight, the food has a big impact on a person's feeling in space," said Yuri Drigo, director of the Biryulevsky Experimental Factory that supplies the space food.
Developments in food production may also shape the future of manned expeditions into space. The United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada will launch the first modules of a new International Space Station this year, setting up a new permanent international manned presence in orbit that will replace the 12-year-old Mir.
As on Mir, crews on the station will receive shipments of food and other supplies every few months. But when a spaceship rockets off on a 1,000-day trip to Mars, an odyssey U.S. scientists say is possible as early as 2012, regular resupply from Earth will not be an option.
Choices for Mars include growing food aboard, introducing some uncertainty to the supply, or taking huge stores, which could literally keep the craft from getting off the ground. A crew of six taking all their meals to Mars would need 1,500 cubic feet of food, said Liana Rodriggs of the exploration office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas enough to fill 270 barrels of oil or a modest sitting room in your home.
The astronauts would also need large amounts of water, making for a total weight greater than could make the trip.
"They could not do a mission to Mars based on the current food system and propellant system," said Michael Dagerath, food services manager for Boeing Aerospace, which has prepared food for Americans on shuttle and Mir missions.
Scientists are experimenting with growing food or even hatching fish in space. But at the Biryulevsky Experimental Factory in the village of Izmailovo outside Moscow, Drigo said he has pondered the Mars food problem and decided that bringing canned and hydrated food is a far better option.
"The first long flight should be with full supplies because it would be much more reliable than an untested greenhouse," he said at his factory, whose worn Soviet-era machinery, cracked tiles and drab exterior belie its space-age function.
The factory boasts several hundred varieties of space food including traditional Russian black bread, beef goulashes and cookies. Shrimp cocktail, a favorite of U.S. astronauts, was eliminated after the fall of the Soviet Union cut off supply.
Some of the food is freeze-dried and packed in transparent plastic bags to assure a shelf-life of as long as four years. The food comes to life with water and is eaten though a straw. Russian cosmonauts also eat from toothpaste-style tubes and tin cans methods the United States abandoned long ago.
Despite some off-putting aspects, some space food might even find a place at home. A sample of Russian space chocolate made without milk to prevent melting and thus ideal for children's sticky hands proved surprising tasty. But Drigo said the factory does not market it commercially.
"I think the Russian food gets a bad rap," said astronaut Michael Foale, who spent four months on Mir last year. "They have a great beet and potato dish ... and the tvorog (cottage cheese) with nuts is delicious. But I'm not one for the jellied fish." Said Drigo: "Practically all the crews like all our food."
Yet after U.S. astronaut Norm Thagard flew the first NASA mission on Mir in 1995, NASA decided to provide half of the food for their future astronauts, even though they had already agreed in advance to pay for full room and board.
Thagard lost nearly 17 pounds early in his mission but blames bureaucracy rather than bad food. Scientists ordered the crew to eat only certain items from the stores so that they could record their intake.
"My (Russian) crewmates correctly realized that the adherence would lead to weight loss and astutely refused to adhere to the requirement," Thagard said. "Nonetheless I religiously honored the ... requirement until, seven weeks into the mission, the doctors finally noticed that I had lost over 17 pounds."
U.S.-made food is cheaper than the Russian equivalent, at about $300 a day, according to Vickie Kloeris, who oversees food for the shuttle program at the Johnson Space Center.
"Our costs are higher because in America you can get the food from the nearest supermarket. We don't have that and we have to make all our food ourselves," Drigo said.
Officials in both countries say space food costs more than Earth meals because of the need to test the foods rigorously to assure quality and to package them specially. But American officials say they buy 80 percent of their space food commercially, which is cheaper than Russian home-grown.
With the Russian Space Agency planning to retire Mir next summer, the experimental factory might seem to have a dim future, but Drigo said diversification has assured further orders for their specialty food. He said he expects sales to quadruple to $3.4 million this year, of which more than $1 million is profit, compared to a low point in 1995 when the factory nearly closed down.
About 80 percent of sales are not for space at all but much more down-to-earth - small, hard calorie-rich bricks of survival rations for the Russian military.

comments@foxnews.com
© 1998, News America Digital Publishing, Inc. d/b/a Fox News Online.
All rights reserved. Fox News is a registered trademark of 20th Century Fox Film Corp.
© Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved

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      Fox News Online / 1.07 p.m. ET (1707 GMT) August 12, 1998
      Millennium Bug Exterminated From Russia's Missiles

MOSCOW -- Sleep easy. The millennium bug which doomsayers say could melt down the world's computer-run transport and financial systems will, at least, not trigger World War III.
So Marshal Igor Sergeyev, Russia's defense minister, said on Wednesday, denying U.S. suggestions that Moscow's vast and underfunded nuclear arsenal could be launched into action by a simple computer glitch at the dawn of the third millennium.
Sergeyev should know. Until joining the government last year, he was the commander of the Strategic Missile Forces. But he gave no secrets away at a news conference in Moscow.
"This problem affects more those spheres where mass-market computer technology is used. In Russia's Strategic Missile forces, there is no risk because special computer technology is used," he said.
Quite how special, he would not say. He gave no indication of why it was not affected by the millennium bug, a fault in which computer software first developed in the 1960s and 70s fails to recognize the year 2000 and thinks it is back in 1900.
American officials have voiced concerns that, a decade after the end of the Cold War, the bug could trigger an unintended Russian nuclear attack by blanking out command computers and panicking officers into suspecting an enemy first strike.
Two months ago U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen offered Sergeyev American expertise and ideas to help Russia handle the issue. Russia told Washington it did not have a problem.

comments@foxnews.com
© 1998, News America Digital Publishing, Inc. d/b/a Fox News Online.
All rights reserved. Fox News is a registered trademark of 20th Century Fox Film Corp.
© 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
© Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved

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